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Opportunities to get one's foot in the door?

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Spag_Eddy greentooth
Greetings be to thee fellow artists of Polycount! I am a junior 3D Environment Artist living in the magical kingdom of Los Angeles seeking some wisdom regarding alternative career opportunities to help get my foot in the door. I moved here about a year ago and began the career hunt last January, which to this point, has spawned nothing but crickets and rejection (aside from an internship with a small VR studio). Although I may be delusional in certain aspects of my life, I have no delusions that my work needs to be better, and in my free time, I am taking every chance and opportunity to better skills and the content of my current personal portfolio project, and the presentation thereof. That said, I work in the veterinary field and struggle often to be as productive with my art as I want to be due to how physically and mentally exhausting my job tends to be, and am trying to think of other creative ways to pay the rent/bills while still having the time/energy to pursue my art career and possibly build something of a network at the same time.

I was wondering if, living in an area like L.A., there were job opportunities with studios unrelated to being an artist that I should be looking out for that may help me at least get my foot in the door somewhere and afford me the opportunity to see and experience the studio environment and possibly make some acquaintances? I have applied to a few receptionist positions with some larger studios, and was wondering if there were other entry level positions I should keep any eye out for? Janitorial? Court Jester? Etc... Also, is there any benefit to showing up in-person to any of these studios and inquiring about job opportunities? Everything seems to be online these days, and I worry that it's easy as a candidate to get lost in the shuffle of all the competition. I feel like there is a lot of opportunity in a place like L.A., but it's also a very daunting and overwhelming place for a new guy like me and I am honestly unsure how to pursue any said potential opportunity and was looking for some guidance from those who may be more familiar? 

Thanks be to ye all, praise the sun!


  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis high dynamic range
    I switched to 4 days per week at work about a year ago, in order to have more energy to work on art. It's allowed me to progress quite a bit in my humble opinion. Instead of trying to find an alternate route into being an artist, I think you should maybe switch jobs, find a way to live more cheaply, and make this a strategy for being able to put more hours into your work every single day. Find the cheapest apartment you can, stop eating out, get a cheap bike for transit, and drop your working days to 3 times per week, then spend 4-5 days on your art. My unqualified opinion is your portfolio isn't ready, and looks like you haven't updated any projects in a year?

    I've heard the advice that people looking to break into the industry can get a job as a production runner, making coffee and regular assistant duties. You build up contacts, and can pester them about letting you help them with small art tasks. But other professionals have told me to drop that idea and just concentrate on making better art.

    - Join the Polycount Slack and let them rip apart your portfolio and tell you what you should be doing if you want a job.
    - Complete every ArtStation challenge... or complete Polycount's bi-monthly challenges.... or complete a new environment every 2 months.
    - Cut back on hours at work. Cut back on video games. Cut back on Netflix. Cut back on sugar cuz we generally eat too much in our society.

    Good luck man!
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J high dynamic range
    I don't understand how anybody can live in LA. I live comfortably in owned house on 2k a month. People make hundred times more than me barely pay rent in places like that. Sheer insanity.

    If you don't have strong reason to live in expensive place, how do you justify It? Rhetorical question.

    Don't rent. It's biggest waste of money there is. Netflix and coffee is nothing compared to money wasted on renting. Every person's first priority should be to own property. I'd make that number one goal. Otherwise it's real hard to climb out the hole, and so long as you renting you just digging deeper and deeper.

    You work in vet? Consider doing that in cheap place. Veterinarians in rural places gonna need help. You can save money then which can buy you "vacations" in which you do your art a hundred hours a day for weeks at a time.

    As mentioned, get serious about budgeting if.you aren't already. Even still, I don't think it makes sense to live in LA on anything less than six figures, unless you have zero plans beyond paycheck grinding. There is a million other people there just like you fighting for same scrap of bread. If you don't strongly believe in your heart  that you really are one in ten million, just seems like the wrong approach IMO.

    You want to give yourself every advantage possible. You will have learning and practice advantage is you have fewer worries in your life. Worrying about money is biggest stressor. Work won't be as taxing if it nets you extra money to save each month. Also, if you are coming into jobs from position of finamcial comfort, you less likely to accept awful ones just to "get in the door." I can't stress how much worse it is to work for a terrible boss/company than to be unemployed. That's not how you want to start a career if you can help it.

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J high dynamic range
    Oh and if you want to buy yourself carefree practice time, consider doing national guard, get the gi bill which pays you to go to school. Do some easy degree and spend all your time them practice your art. Could even do an art degree. Probably useless but doesn't matter cause you aren't paying, and if.it exposes you to more art that.aint bad.
  • maximumsproductions
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    maximumsproductions polycounter lvl 8
    Don't rent. It's biggest waste of money there is. Netflix and coffee is nothing compared to money wasted on renting. Every person's first priority should be to own property. I'd make that number one goal. Otherwise it's real hard to climb out the hole, and so long as you renting you just digging deeper and deeper.

    That's a broad statement to say the least.

    In any case, it's good you're in LA, lot of jobs, as you already know.
    I would linkedin, search specifically places and look for their recruiters and add them, send a message inquiring. Your work currently, as you also know needs some love but all good in time. That said, I do think there's potential if you can keep looking for VR / Previs work. Only 1 that comes to mind is "Halon" and "Moving Picture Company" where you can do Previs, which what I've seen is Unreal Engine. 

    The Mill, has a good runner program it seems, if you want to try that route as well.

    In meantime, I think your base knowledge is foundational, and I would look for a workshop to go professional, CGMA environment workshop perhaps, or I think this "Josh Lynch" has some mentorship website too going on nowadays. At Gnomon, a school in the area, Environment for Games class may be solid too. Whatever it is, just a full class, dedicated to something in professional quality. 0 to 100. Sorry I'm not in games currently but have seen lot of game artists go to VR / Previs in the area.

    I think I see your issue currently just wanting to go all in, so I hope you can find something that aligns hopefully in next few months to boost your motivation etc. 

    Good luck, you got this!

    Oh and imo, in LA, if previs, try to go $30 at least. And Environment or such $35. Just start your hourly negotiation there and then let it deviate if needed.
  • sacboi
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    sacboi ngon master
    Work and save like a Trojan, build up your savings then take a 12mth sabbatical too devote solely polishing your art. This is not an off the cuff piece of 'tripe' by the way, I've known artists that have exercised a similar regime which had proved successful in terms gaining remote work and/or paid full time industry salary...so it's doable. Oh, and another thing, when I was going through a rough patch, basically unemployed...well pretty much homeless whilst living off the dole, I ate baked beans and spam for 16mths paying back an incurred unintentional debt of $2500, fucking awful but I did it, paid that fucker back in FULL. Thinking on it now still evokes a sense of personal pride I'd dug myself out of a seemingly bottomless pit and survived.
  • Brian "Panda" Choi
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    Brian "Panda" Choi high dynamic range
    Rarely.  QA is gonna not respect your art making time most likely.  Best I've heard is a friend of mine from church who nabbed a front desk job with Cloud Imperium, but that's mostly because she already had barista experience.

    You're better suited looking for work that will protect your art making time.  Whatt that is varies.  Personally for me, manual labor jobs like groundsskeeeping at golf courses, etc. have proven beneficial for me.  In general, I'd encourage finding survival work that is NOT entertainment related to avoid that stress UNTIL you get the job in entertainment that you want.

    If you want to work on actual games on a volunteer basis, reach out to USC Games.  They would have need for experienced environment artists of your caliber, but you'll need to vet the teams out: figure out who is best for what you want to do on a volunteer basis.

    This is the kind of work we're talking about.  Our team made this back in 2014, I was Art Directing as a Senior.

    Outer Wilds (not Outer Worlds) originally began as a USC Master thesis project and look, they ended up shipping properly.

    Showing up to a studio in person is not a thing people do here.

    Which part of LA are you in?

    @Alex Javor
    When it's a city effuse with tacos, sweat, and gasoline, you make sacrifices to stay in the chaos and fire.  Granted I've grown up here, but I'll rep Los Angeles for kilometers and kilometers.  Where else could you find something like this:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6gzwkVvTUs

  • PixelMasher
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    PixelMasher high dynamic range
    I would not recommend trying to get a job other than the one you actually want to do at a studio. If you start as QA or a production runner etc, that is what people are going to view you as, and transitioning out of the role might actually become harder than just getting hired as an artist.

    Looking at your artstation, your work is not up to the industry standard of quality, it's ok, but needs that extra push of skill development to help you stand out. There also just isn't enough work in your portfolio at the moment, I would want to see a couple more scenes if you want to be an environment artist.aim for 4-5 solid pieces.

    LA is extremely competitive and the quality bar of the studios out there is insanely high. Naughty Dog, Sony Santa Monica, Respawn etc So your work needs to be at a really high level. 

    I would pick 1-2 studios you really want to work at and custom tailor your portfolio with content that looks like it would directly fit in their games. This will make you more attractive for when your work gets to their level over the next couple years and they are most likely ramping up on the next sequel and need talent. 

    In terms of living, I would echo what others have been saying, live as cheap as possible. Get a job that pays you the most while having to work the least amount of hours and gives you time to work on your art. Live with 5 room mates if need be to cut down on your costs. will it suck? probably, but what is your end goal?

    100% of your focus should be on the one thing you can control, the quality of your art. Looking for side routes or potential shortcuts/hacks on how to get into a studio is not going to pay off vs investing your time in producing new content for your portfolio which has a WAY higher chance of a better ROI for your time. 

  • NikhilR
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    NikhilR interpolator
    I would not recommend trying to get a job other than the one you actually want to do at a studio. If you start as QA or a production runner etc, that is what people are going to view you as, and transitioning out of the role might actually become harder than just getting hired as an artist.

    But once the artwork is upto speed wouldn't they see him as more than a QA/production runner?
    I currently do QA as a side gig to freelance and it is the only job that gives the flexibility to actually do art on the side.
    Maybe its because its 3rd party, though not sure what it pays would cover living in LA.

    I have a colleague in QA at Ubisoft toronto, and while his job is model checking (art pass) there are ways internally to move into art positions. The political bs is what prevents it in addition to his own efforts into creating art up to standard which in his opinion isn't really necessary for the work that is actually done in the studio.

    For example a model artist friend of ours in the same company doesn't do any actual art. He basically fixes models that are acquired through an outsource company. He wants to move to characters, but there just isn't enough work to go around the majority of which is outsourced.

    Coming from their perspective its not like the artists currently working are ultimate top tier gods picked purely because of their art skills each of whom has total control on every art asset from start to finish. But they do see stability and people there are more likely to entertain your questions. 

    What I mean is that being internal helps a great deal, HR for one are way nicer to you, and other artists may back you because you play street fighter with them (even if your art is crap but can get better on the job) 
    So if you do get to join as a QA person, join and network for a year, but if rubbish you can't control stops your moving into art its time to move on.

    In fact my friend was told to leave the company and join somewhere else, then quit and come back for 1$ bump in pay/hour, lol.

    Also maybe a good idea to look into where you're currently working. Perhaps you can innovate in the company and grow in the industry that way.
    Unless you're set on getting that brand name company on your resume, sometimes I feel like the work you actually do in the studios doesn't really compare to what you're expected to put out solo in your portfolio.

    Its only in freelance that I've ever had to take care of every aspect of the pipeline on a deliverable, in AAA you work on a part of the process so I think the top tier art bs is really just to filter through the mad saturation.

    I also feel that having prior industry experience seems to count more since recruiters seem to be convinced that its a safer bet to poach than hire new talent. 

    If you are able to move to somewhere less crazy, work in a smaller company that gives you the flexibilty to push your portfolio so you can work in AAA games later as freelancer or even develop your own brand, you can have a better life at the cost of not having contributed to a video game as a junior and given the bum deal as far as pay/benefits/work hours.etc
    For instance I've see a number of environment artists dedicate themselves to mastering substance designer, they create incredible stuff and that makes them the go to people for substances/texturing. 
    That ought to be an artists ultimate goal, a mastery of your passion. If that is something a company can bank on for its profit and everyone benefits then great!

    A lot of seniors here are likely having a good time, but applying that experience to a junior starting out because its competitive is capitalism at its finest. 
    Imagine if people were actually happy where they were and companies made that possible. There would be less poaching and more hiring of new talent in this cutthroat business.

    One interesting trend I've noticed here from a few companies is hiring seniors for internships. I can understand why they do it, what I don't get is how they actually get applicants willing to take a paycut just to get into the company.

    The one thing we need the most in this business is dignity, I'm not sure how your portfolio compensates for that.

  • neilberard
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    neilberard polycounter lvl 14
    These things won't help you find a job as an artist:
    -Living in LA
    -Working in QA to get your foot in the door.
    -Showing up at a studio doorstep with your portfolio. (please don't do that)

    These things will help you find a job as artist:
    -Create great art. 

    Whatever you do, focus on that last bit. If you get a job, do one that gives you time to improve your art. That's it.

  • NikhilR
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    NikhilR interpolator

    I don't know where you are working or what your experience has been, but having worked at 5+ studios in both vancouver and montreal I can pretty confidently say that 80-90% of people I have worked with are pretty happy in their day to day jobs, and enjoy where they work. I know a bunch of people who have been working at Relic for 15+ years because they love it so much and probably turned down insane offers from Microsoft when they opened up in Vancouver because they were happy where they worked. 

    I am currently working in 3rd party QA since it gives me time to do freelance work on the side. In between that I fit portfolio work.
    I have been approached by AAA companies in Montreal for interviews, which likely meant that there was something about the portfolio they liked.
    The interviews also go well. The issue I face is after the interview where I don't hear back and then lose out because they hired someone with more industry experience or a fresh graduate.

    Now this I can confirm since its possible to find out who that is, most of the time.
    And I do this since its the only way I'd know more about what exactly they are looking for and where I'm falling short.

     I agree that having industry experience does give an impression of competency, going from the interview and knowing what is expected of an entry level internship position it makes me wonder if it really does matter. Like it isn't even listed on the advertisement that they want experience. 

    Its like they are making things up as they go along. Its really bizarre. 
    I agree about adding more quality pieces to my portfolio is a good way forward, I mean its all I can really do on my side though my QA work has allowed me to network a whole lot better and get some studio experience (not game art pipeline experience) so I am hoping that counts for something.

    As for seniors liking their jobs, I guess it depends on the perspective you see with. Like in the case of ubisoft toronto, a lot of seniors left because the company didn't try to retain them (usually because its cheaper to just move around internally)
    If they got something better, sure they were happy, well the single ones with no families likely were. And toronto is mad expensive so for a lot of them losing a job didn't necessary mean a massive pay rise unless they were looking to leave the country.

    When you have 15+ years of experience its a pretty different story. And especially if your single. Glassdoor gives a good idea of what the industry needs to improve on in working conditions compared to say the IT industry (revenue wise)

    I understand the competitive aspect, its just the disparity in what is done internally vs the kind of portfolio quality expected going in that isn't making any sense.

    Its still challenging for me to understand that sweet spot between portoflio quality, industry experience and shipped titles, but I'm going to keep trying.

    Like if one of my pieces goes viral, I win an award or have an article on 80 level maybe that's a way to get more exposure. 
    But would I be doing all of that at the studio I work starting out? How much of my ability is actually leveraged, with me getting the responsibility I want over people in the company that have waited years for that chance.

    And how much of the work is actually innovative from a production art perspective. Like its good to specialize in making really good rocks with I feel compares to my wanting to specialize in portraits for characters, but what needs to be gauged more is soft skills that go beyond technical competency.

    Like when they ask me what my experience has been like working with people, I tell them that as a dentist I worked with over a 1000 patients and around 300 doctors in a very high stress environment.

    Their question has nothing to do with my competancy in creating art in a collaborative environment, in fact as a junior they want me to do what they termed "boring grunt work" which I'm happy to do, and hopefully help to innovate processes that can expedite their pipeline in someway (I did this in my previous jobs)

    Though majority of times it hasn't had any effect. Like they clearly don't want me to work at my level of quality, or use my experience to help them, so it makes me wonder what HR was thinking calling me in for an interview and then pulling out an outdated resume.
    Weirdly, the job I got currently, I was told to hide my background since it might intimidate existing employees and isn't relevant (though it does make for some interesting conversation and enlightens the mind)

    While its debatable just how high their standards are for art, their inability to leverage the full capacity of an applicants prior experience unrelated to art is pretty disturbing to me. Like even in companies like Google this is absolutely valued since they know how much further a company can grow with these additional skill sets. 

    I understand the reality of how its become, but I sometimes wonder if were my experience outside of games was considered by a more dynamic and open minded HR that didn't just want to play it safe, perhaps more would come out of it for both sides?
  • Zi0
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    Zi0 interpolator
    If there is a company looking for an Art QA that might be a way in, I dont know how life is in LA but I do know that here in Poland some people start as for instance Art QA at CDPR for and in a year or two some of them become actual artists. Generally I wouldn't recommend doing regular QA because most of the time its very time consuming. IMO the best thing you can do is look at amazing art and work on creating stuff on the same level. The two pieces on your current portfolio are not industry quality, the props are very simple and have pretty poor materials, the lighting isn't great either. I would recommend starting with creating a couple of high quality props. Props are less time consuming then whole environments so If you don't have much time because of your work start working on a prop for even like 2h a day, this way you can have a nice high quality prop in a couple of days.

    Also never randomly visit studios in person, try to look at this from their point of view. During a work day everybody is quite busy with their deadlines, people dont have the time for random chats with people who want to show their CV + folio thats what career expos are for. Same goes for calling studios. Just use their application system on their website.

    Work hard and SMART and you will get there, when I started to look for a job at first I didnt get any responses. This meant I was that bad so I continued working on my skills and projects and a couple of months later I tried again, I got a couple of interviews and rejections, still no job but at least studios started to answer me which meant that I was getting closer. I kept on working and the next time I sent my CV I got a couple of job offers.
  • Spag_Eddy
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    Spag_Eddy greentooth
    Apologies for my super late response. Right after I created this, life took a bit of an unexpected turn and I've been away from the computer as a result. But I just wanted to thank you all for your responses and feedback. Especially the feedback part. I know that I still have a lot of growing to do before I'll ever make it in this crazy 3D artist world and I'm grateful to have such an amazing community here to support and guide me along the way. I was mostly just wondering if there was anything I could be looking for in the meantime that would allow me to integrate myself into a game development environment and allow me to gain some experience and afford me the opportunity to see how the inner-workings operate.

    I'll still continue to keep my eyes peeled for snazzy opportunities that may exist, but in the meantime, i'll suck it up and just work through the veterinary exhaustion. Thanks again for all of your help, you all are truly awesome and I'd be lost with ya's!
  • Spag_Eddy
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    Spag_Eddy greentooth
    I don't understand how anybody can live in LA. I live comfortably in owned house on 2k a month. People make hundred times more than me barely pay rent in places like that. Sheer insanity.

    I may be in the minority here, but I love it out here. Compared to the previous states I've lived, LA has a lot of personality and definitely operates at a pace that I've been searching for most of my life . The weather and food are both pretty nice here, too  B)

    Which part of LA are you in?

    West Hollywood!

    Zi0 said:

    Work hard and SMART and you will get there, when I started to look for a job at first I didnt get any responses. This meant I was that bad so I continued working on my skills and projects and a couple of months later I tried again, I got a couple of interviews and rejections, still no job but at least studios started to answer me which meant that I was getting closer. I kept on working and the next time I sent my CV I got a couple of job offers.

     Thanks, mate. It's always nice to hear other people's journeys/struggles. I used to get so frustrated/down by all the rejection and radio silence, but that's silly and now I've learned to just accept it as a form of advice and motivation to continue getting better.
  • focus_method
    We all know it's very hard to get into the industry since it's strongly competitive but i just checked your portfolio on artstation and you have a potential definitely but i think you need to work more on the details. Both, in modeling and texturing/materials.

    This is very ungrateful career/job. We are all infected with the magic of CG but don't let it fool you. 

    If i were you, i would stick with my job in veterinary and when you have time and energy work on your portfolio easy.

    You need to put soul and  passion into it. (That's very hard especially if you have a job already doing something non-related to art, it's like you're dealing with two worlds. Switch from one mindset into the other.)  I think nowadays ability to achieve realistic details is something that sells you out there.

    if you can't achieve your goals as 3d artist even if you know you tryed really hard (but be honest with yourself) then ask yourself - why to love something that doesn't loves me back? 
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